Crass commercialism isn't a new motive for TV news, of course. But in this case, the impact may be profound. Dobbs's show "has become the pipeline for nativists and nationalists to move their views from the margins into the mainstream," says Devin Burghart, a director at the Center for New Community, which monitors anti-immigrant groups. "Many of the most hard-core anti-immigrant activists have appeared on his program--people like Joe McCutchen, one-time member of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), the largest white nationalist organization in the country. He appeared on the program without any attempt [by Dobbs] to expose his involvement with those organizations."
Indeed, Dobbs often features and quotes activists with links to extremist and even openly racist groups, as the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, reported last year. Yet Dobbs consistently fails to mention those connections--even when he or his reporters interview the founder and leader of a hate group. Glenn Spencer, for example, who heads the nativist American Patrol, deemed a hate group by both the SPLC and the Anti-Defamation League, was portrayed as a hero for running a "shadow border patrol" with "a handful of committed friends" using technology that rivals the federal government's. The reporter didn't mention that Spencer has also predicted a war with Mexico; his popular website, which often quotes Dobbs and links to his show, spreads rumors that immigrants are plotting to overthrow the Southwest United States. There's also Protect Arizona Now (PAN), which successfully pressed a ballot initiative that denies state services to illegal aliens and requires state employees to report them. Dobbs ran glowing features on the group and its campaign, never mentioning what many news outlets had reported: that Virginia Abernethy, a self-described "white separatist" and former editorial adviser to the white-supremacist CCC, headed PAN's national advisory board.
Dobbs has used material directly from the CCC--in the process spreading and adding legitimacy to some of that group's more bizarre views. In an almost surreal segment in May, Dobbs reporter Casey Wian described the US visit of Mexican President Vicente Fox as a "Mexican military incursion." As Wian spoke, a full-screen graphic appeared, with seven Southwestern states in darker color, portrayed as a map of "Aztlan," a mythical nation of the Aztec people comprising part of the territory Mexico lost to the United States 150 years ago. According to Wian's report, Mexico and "militant Latino activists" secretly aim to take it back. The map was provided by the CCC, which has called blacks "a retrograde species of humanity" and warned that immigration is turning the US population into a "slimy brown mass of glop."
Earlier this year, Lou Dobbs Tonight covered a local protest in California against Home Depot's efforts to hire Spanish-speaking workers. Dobbs aired a clip of California Coalition for Immigration Reform spokeswoman Barbara Coe--identified merely as a protester--saying Home Depot had "betray[ed] the American people." Dobbs didn't mention that Coe's coalition is considered a hate group, or that she is a CCC member who's referred to Mexicans as "savages" and, in a speech last year, called undocumented workers "illegal barbarians who are cutting off heads and appendages of blind, white, disabled gringos."
"They're not willing to tell the truth about these groups," says Mark Potok, editor of the SPLC's Intelligence Report. Two years ago Potok alerted Dobbs and his staff to the backgrounds of their extremist guests. In response, Dobbs sent five producers and reporters to Montgomery, Alabama, for all-day meetings with the SPLC's hate monitors. "As they left they were promising to do a series on extremism and racism," says Potok. "They never did anything."
Instead, Dobbs's show continued to showcase extremists--many of whom now hail the anchor as their champion. The Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which describes itself as animated by a "low-immigration vision" and whose leaders are frequent guests on Dobbs's show, gave Dobbs its Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration in 2004. CIS executive director Mark Krikorian praises Dobbs for his "unusual voice among the elite that expresses the widespread public concern over immigration," adding that Dobbs's "conventional business background gives him even more credibility with the general public." Asked if CIS feeds Dobbs material for his show, Krikorian responded: "We used to send him stuff, but since he decided to really take up the issue, he started calling us." (Dobbs himself refused repeated requests for comment.)
Dobbs's Home Depot story exemplified another specialty--showcasing otherwise insignificant anti-immigrant protests to make a particular Dobbsian point. On his nightly newscasts, the small-town border sheriff and his volunteer posse take on the status of war heroes. The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps [see Susy Buchanan and David Holthouse, page 29] becomes a vigorous volunteer border patrol. The woman whose Social Security number was stolen becomes the sympathetic face of hardworking Americans victimized by cheating and conniving immigrants. And right-wing groups calling for a "tourism boycott of Massachusetts" to protest the Kennedy-McCain immigration bill--or, as Dobbs puts it, "Kennedy's stance on amnesty"--get instant publicity.